Summer arrived early for British Columbia and with it came some record breaking temperatures. In one case, a temperature record set 85 years ago was broken by 3 degrees C ! And with the dry winter and low rainfall, things sure did get dry. Tinder dry forests were going up in flames and with it the provincial governments firefighting budget of $63 million was used up before the end of June. It really was hot and residents were suffering in their non air conditioned homes... so what does one do in the heat? A common way to find reprieve from the heat was a nice swim followed with a patio visit, a crisp refreshing beverage and if you're like me...an oyster or 12 !
Hold on though.... working in the industry and being around seafood all my life I've come to know a thing or two about seafood selection.....So, next time you're purchasing an oyster for your menu or you're a customer wanting a nice plump oyster to pair with that crisp Sauvignon Blanc on a hot summers day.... I recommend reading this post:
Oysters do have seasons! When the oysters feel the temperature change from winter to summer they switch from feeding and move their energy onto spawning. For people eating spawning oysters this is noticed by a soft, creamy meat. That unpleasant creaminess is the oysters eggs & sperm. You're eating the life of oysters. Some people like it, but most I find don't., They like a nice firm oyster meat with good opacity ( the white part of the meat, means high glycogen..more on that below) that pairs well with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc on hot summers day.
But where do you find those oysters in summer ??
Luckily we have a global market these days where we can import products from reverse seasons. So while the local BC oysters are getting down to business, 46 South gives B.C oysters some privacy by flying over Kaipara and Coromandel oysters from New Zealand. The Kaipara & Coromandel oysters are of the same variety as BC oysters, crassostrea gigas or Pacific Oyster so they complement the BC oyster well when its out of action. These New Zealand bivalves have been feeding profusely to keep energy levels up over the cooler winter months in New Zealand. That food is turned into glycogen which gives the oyster its sweetness & flavour.
Meanwhile the local BC oysters, if spawned will be translucent, weak and languid....at least until late Fall in which case the BC oyster has realized winter is coming...needs energy after spawning and all that lovely food is then turned back into glycogen which means tasty plump local oysters again from Nov - June. I love oysters, both local or from afar...but I wont eat a BC oyster until after its spawned and has built up its flavourful firm meat again..... but there is one more downside to eating local oysters over summer which I must point out;
There was a lot of attention surrounding oysters this summer due to the CFIA recall of BC oysters. This was attributed to illnesses caused by people eating oysters infected with Vibrio which is common in oysters over summer months when the waters are warmer. A warmer summer means a higher chance of getting sick from uncooked shellfish. A vibrio infected oyster can be likened to a ticking time bomb over summer if its already present in the oyster. All the harvested oyster needs is a little help by being mishandled by growers, transporters and restaurants. My question to any purveyor of oysters is why risk buying a oyster plucked out of warmer than usual summer waters when its a known fact vibrio is at its highest levels. The summer woes of a vibrio infected oyster isn't just specific to BC / West coast oysters; East coast oysters are also susceptible to vibrio over warmer months. See the article here.
In colder winter waters Vibrio is barely detectable so this points towards confidence when purchasing oysters from cooler waters.
The Southern Hemisphere offers us that confidence from June - October. Pair this with the fact that oyster meat quality is at its best in the cooler months when they're not spawning and you'll quickly see why 46 South imports Kaipara and Coromandel oysters during North American summer & early fall.
In summary, oysters do have seasons. Yes, oysters can be eaten all year round... but only if the purveyor has carefully selected the oysters from in season waters and a grower they trust that follows strict health regulations. By price comparison, an imported oyster like the Kaipara or Coromandel from New Zealand is about the same price as a west coast Kuushi or Kumomoto. So arguably not much difference unless you're a fan of 'buck a shuck', which in warmer months I'd be steering far far away from! I suppose its like the age old saying 'you get what you pay for'.